Observations and arguments.

Archive for August, 2006

The Quoting Gene

Update: We’re currently exploring to what extent this behavior falls under the rubric of hyperlexia, an early-childhood syndrome that pretty much mimics what I write about below:

The boy doesn’t speak so much as quote from his stories.

“Stories”, in this case, being an umbrella term encompassing books, videos, and audio recordings, which he listens to on CD in his bedroom or in the car on Mommy’s or Daddy’s iPod.

As an example, when tonight at dinner he shouted enthusiastically: “Spaghetti, yummy!”–or to be honest, “Hnehi, yummy!” (his consonants remain a work in progress)–he was not simply stating his enthusiasm for the spaghetti and meatballs, but was in fact quoting from Leslie Patricelli’s Yummy Yucky board book.

(We know he was quoting because he followed his exclamation with the accompanying line from the book, “Worms, yucky!”)

Many of the boy’s stories he has access to in all three media, because the Thomas & Friends Industrial Complex develops many of its properties in all three, and also because of Scholastic’s consumer-repackaging of the video adaptations of children’s literature done for more than fifty years by Morton Schindel and his Weston Woods Studios.

This multimedia synergy is a perfect match for how his brain has been wired. It reinforces the stories through repetition (recorded or when we read to him), a process complements his own compulsion to store entire stories as rote memory. (We first identified this compulsion at the age of one and a half–before the video or audio was introduced. Even then he displayed a fierce need to convert a new/unknown book into a familiar/known book, by shouting at us to repeat the beginning of the book over. And over. And over.)

And since family and friends are impressed by his ability to recite entire stories, they are willing to forgive the fact that he remains incapable (or more precisely: unwilling) to answer a direct conversational question, with even a token nod, let alone a verbal response.

The traditional use of quotations in writing or public speaking is based on the premise that someone has expressed an idea using better words than I could come up with myself, so I’ll repeat what they said.

In one sense, language itself is based on this premise. I’m thinking of a round thing, that rolls and bounces. I heard someone else express this idea once in a way I’ll repeat now: “Ball.”

But the quoting gene in the boy’s DNA sequence is the same one found in the individual, who when reminded of a particular scene in, e.g. Raiders of the Lost Ark, does not simply mention it, or describe it, but rather recites it, at length, to demonstrate not merely the relevance of the cultural reference to the current moment, but to prove mastery of the source material, if only to one’s self.

It is the same gene that will propel him, at a point in between the ages of eleven and fifteen, to commit entire Monty Python routines to memory.

I would be tempted to turn the gene off if the option were presented, as I expect that it will cause him a great deal of trouble in the social arena, especially when it comes to dating.

My best hope for him, I suppose, is that he finds friends who also carry the gene, and some similar taste in movies, etc., with whom he can at least develop social skills within a subculture of quoting geekdom.

If it was good enough for his old man…

…is I believe how the expression goes.

Tags: ,

The makings of a good plan.

In a toddler’s life
(or, at least, in my toddler’s life),
pretty much any plan
that incorporates a honey graham cracker
a pretty good plan.